Tuesday, 30 June 2009

BBC poll on independence/devolution

Interesting findings published today from a BBC poll. Firstly, 58% of respondents (from a sample of 1,010) favoured holding a referendum next year on the constitutional question, which will be a finding warmly welcomed by the Scottish Government.

However, there was also a clear demonstration of support for the continuation of the Union in all forms of the question asked, although the levels did vary. The preferred wording of the Scottish Government (about negotiating a settlement with the UK Government) received the highest level of support for independence (42% support, 50% supporting the Union), however other versions of the question saw support for independence at 38% and 28% respectively, very low totals for nationalists to approach a referendum with.Where does this leave us?

Well, the first clear challenge is for the 'opposition' parties to either find a different way of justifying their opposition to a referendum; or to call the Government's bluff (as they would see it) by going for a referendum - this appears to be the approach that the public would like to see. Of course, the crucial aspect of a referendum will be in the wording of the questions asked - the SNP will be desperate to stick with their preferred wording whilst the opposition parties will, as Iain Gray says, want a straight yes/no question, which appears likely to lead to a rejection of independence. If the opposition parties look like they are opposing a referendum that the people want and which it looks like they will win then this could well make them look ridiculous - they will also be terrified of the consequences of a lost referendum, leaving them in quite a conundrum.

The second challenge is of course to the SNP. As John Curtice points out (and I heard him speaking about this at a conference recently) the SNP Government have done a good job of cementing their place in the public conscious as a competent party of government and they have also undoubtedly won the argument over whether more powers should be devolved to Scotland, with their opponents falling over themselves to join the race for further devolution. However, they appear to be failing to convince the public that independence is therefore the logical answer. Indeed, it could be argued that the SNP, despite their avowed aim of independence, are actually strengthening the devolution settlement, demonstrating that Scotland can have a Government of its own whilst still remaining within the Union. The SNP are also struck with a quandary - to have any chance (and even then it is an outside one) of winning the referendum they have to stick to their preferred wording; however to have any chance of getting a referendum in place they must be willing to compromise on the wording. All of these decisions are to be taken within a context of it looking likely that the referendum would be a loss for the independence cause, leaving them with the potentially tricky task of reinventing themselves in the absence of the independence question which they themselves have stated would have to occur for a generation.

This is where perhaps the logical answer to the situation presents itself, whereby the Government and opposition parties can find ways of agreeing on powers which should be further devolved to Scotland, enhancing the devolution settlement. The opposition cannot ignore the public's appetite for further devolution and indeed their own stated support for such measures; but likewise the SNP do not appear to be in a position yet whereby they can realistically expect to close the case for independence. Working together would allow both sides to claim victory (the SNP would see it as another step along the road, whilst the opposition parties would see it as proof that the settlement is the answer) although it would raise the potential for internal troubles, particularly for the SNP with some of their more intense pro-independence elements who have been relatively disciplined to date, but might react to more evidence of Salmond's gradualism.

It is likely that such agreement will not occur of course, certainly not before the next election - politically Salmond will want to avoid the troubles I suggested above and will also be aware of the political capital which he might be able to raise in an election campaign in 2011 whereby he derides the opposition parties for denying Scots their voice. Likewise there is an almost intractable refusal on the behalf of both the SNP and Labour to consider working together in a visible way, for fear of annoying their party faithful. In addition, the Scottish Lib Dems appear to have a surprising hatred of the concept of a referendum for anything, and therefore whilst appearing on paper the most likely to support the Government on introducing the Bill will fight it tooth and nail. The Conservatives could be an interesting element of the equation - they may decide to take the SNP on and agree to the referendum in order to defeat it, however this is probably still an outside chance.

I have to say, however, that the findings have challenged me to think about my own initial opposition to a referendum (of course, it's still the case that we shouldn't have a referendum just because the SNP demand one) and it will be interesting to see if other views are affected by the poll as well.

Also published on the Scots Voices blog

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Salmond's Riposte

So after the launch of the Calman Report on Monday, the FM has made his response by suggesting that the Calman suggestion could be included in the proposed independence referendum.

Hardly a shock, but a tactical masterstroke for Salmond nonetheless, which the opposition parties have only themselves to blame for. I don't believe that there is any real desire for constitutional wrangling in Scotland, however the public have a tendency to feel rather riled if they believe they are being denied their opportunity to have a say - look at public response to the lack of a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, even though nobody actually understands the point of it. This response is further heightened by the current disgust with how politicians have been behaving - "not only do they sponge off the system, they don't let us have a say either!"

It's hard to see how the opposition deal with Calman other than by ignoring its recommendations. To push for the changes without a referendum would be very difficult (not impossible though); to hold a referendum on constitutional change without inclusion of the independence question unthinkable in the current political climate and suicide for the Union should it ever be attempted.

The FM will be delighted with the situation so far - many of the recommendations are his anyway and the others all march down the path that he would like Scotland to take. I still believe that he would rather not have the referendum next year - a loss would seriously damage the SNP's standing and identity and still seems the more likely outcome. He had been looking forward to passing the blame onto the opposition parties - the Calman outcome will also give him the opportunity to introduce some gradual change which will please members of his own party who might other be chafing at the bit slightly. He will go into the next election with the constitution front and centre and will then challenge his opponents to justify their refusal to grant the people a say (regardless of whether this is a actually a fair assessment).

In reality the opposition parties, particularly Labour, need to move beyond the constitutional issues and start outlining plans for government, primarily around the economy and job creation. However now that Calman has (as Wardog said in reply to my previous post) let the cat out of the bag, it will be impossible to ignore the issues. However, changes that are introduced will be claimed by the SNP Government as their success, leaving the Calman process with potentially very little to show for its efforts.

The real challenge now would be for the opposition parties to take Salmond up on his offer and introduce a referendum which included the Calman options alongside the question on independence. It would be a very high risk situation, however it may end up being the only way to shift the focus away from constitutional arguments and to remove the sting from the SNP - it would kill the question for at least a decade unless the SNP wanted to look ridiculous.

It's one I need to mull over for myself, will post again when cogent thoughts form (if indeed that ever happens).

Monday, 15 June 2009

Calman Launches

Just back from Edinburgh where I attended the launch of the Calman Commission's Final Report - a very hefty document which outlines the Commission on Scottish Devolution's findings from a year of investigation and debate on the future of devolution.

I have to say that it was a slightly underwhelming event. As has been covered in the media, the main proposals are devolution of aspects of taxation (a section of income tax, along with four other areas such as Stamp Duty), devolution of certain legislative areas such as air gun control and drink driving levels, and a certain level of reform of the intra-governmental workings of Holyrood and Westminster.

The key aspect of the launch was the fact that there is every chance that this will not go anywhere. The Commission was launched as reaction to the Scottish Government's National Conversation rather than necessarily from a belief that the time for re-evaluating devolution was upon us. As such, it lacks an immediate impetus to its recommendations, particularly since the SNP's referendum is essentially dead in the water. The Commission's findings were, to me at least, also reduced in impact by the repeated assertion that they were a) unanimous and b) had considered all options. The idea that a panel composed of members of the Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems, trade unions, the CBI Scotland and other disparate opinions implies that they must have therefore made pretty weak recommendations in order to create unity. In addition, the Commission did not consider all options as they excluded discussion of independence - this is not in itself a problem, but they should be upfront about the agenda behind their work.

The idea of devolving the income tax powers to Scotland (building upon the Scottish Variable Tax powers which already exist but haven't ever been used) is certainly an interesting one. There is a problem just now as the Scottish Government (regardless of political colour) exists to spend money without accountability for raising their own funds. However the fact that the Government would be able to vary the actual amount of income tax without being able to increase or decrease the gaps between the tax bands (or indeed alter the tax bands themselves) limits the ability of the Scottish Government to use income tax to fully pursue ideological measures (i.e. tax cutting to a flat tax or raising the top band to fund spending). If taxation is going to be devolved enough to allow variation between Scotland and the rest of the UK, then it should surely be devolved enough to allow a distinct Scottish Government to pursue its own stated political aims as fully as possible.

The devolution of certain further powers to Holyrood will be supported across the board, as the SNP have already been arguing for many of them - indeed the SNP will probably be quite satisfied with the outcome of the Commission. Needless to say oil tax revenue was excluded from devolution - I don't think anyone expected anything else!

I think that the Commission has explored some interesting issues, but I think that the nature of the process (it was quite stuffy and formal, which excluded lots of 'normal' people from the debate) has somewhat limited the impact of its recommendations. I am sure that it will provoke continued debate on Scotland's constitutional future but I think that, like the National Conversation it set out to compete with, it has failed to answer the questions.

Monday, 8 June 2009

European Elections 2009 - My analysis of a painful night

It was a brutal, painful and embarrassing night last night, and trying to sleep off the bitter feeling didn't help (especially since a crying baby was meaning sleep was but a distantly remembered concept!). In an attempt at catharsis I will therefore throw my analysis of the election into the blogging mix, on a party-by-party/issue basis. At the risk of trivialising it, I will also give each party a grade for the election, to show my arbitrary assessment of how they have done - please feel free to agree or disagree with that.

What can be said about last night that doesn't just slip into hyperbole? The collapse of our vote to 15.3% is a disaster on an unprecedented scale, seeing us pick up our lowest national vote share in 100 years. Slipping behind UKIP into third place is also a situation that only a few years ago would have been unthinkable. We have criticised and derided UKIP as a party of the lunatic fringe (and with some justification) but in regards to European politics they can today legitimately claim to be the party of more British citizens than we are.

When looked at in more depth, the results are even more depressing as heartland areas fell. Labour failed to win in Wales, slipping behind the Tories, and was hammered by the SNP in Scotland, barely managing to keep the vote share in both countries above 20%. Luckily in Scotland we managed to return two MEPs (as far can be seen, as the Scottish results are not confirmed yet due to the Western Isles refusing to count on the Sabbath), which given the context and scale of the rout is a small positive. However, the results demonstrate that there are no safe areas for Labour now, and that in Scotland in particular we are clearly second place to the SNP who have cemented their position.

Now debate will be renewed about Gordon Brown's position, although I don't expect this to go anywhere - the reshuffle on Friday has bound the main political movers into his government, and there are no alternatives to replace him. There is also the news that the recession may be over (for now), leaving the bold and optimistic predictions for growth which the Government has based its policies on in with a shout of succeeding - indeed, the FT suggests that the Government's prediction may turn out to have been too pessimistic. This leaves open the possibility of an upturn in economic success for the Government, which Gordon Brown could use to reinvigorate our chances in the run up to an election next year. Only time will tell.

But for now, we are battered and bruised and embarrassed.

Mark - Fail

On the face of it this was a successful night for the Tories, as they remained the largest party for the European elections, slightly increasing their share of the vote. More importantly for them, they won the election in Wales for the first time since the 19th Century, beating Labour into second. Considering the initial speculation had been that Plaid would be the main beneficiaries of the Labour collapse, this is a spectacular result for them and exactly the kind of gains they need to see if they are going to be successful in winning the next General Election.

However, I don't think that it will be a night that the Conservatives will over-exaggerate, as in some ways they will have cause for disappointment, or at least reflection, on the results. Given that the Labour vote completely vanished, they will have been disappointed to have only seen their vote share rise by 1% and to have only gained one MEP (although this figure was affected by the reduction in the number of MEPs from the 2004 election). They failed to break the 30% mark, which reflects the facts that a) the public disenchanted with all of the major parties, and b) that they have not yet 'sealed the deal' with the electorate. It is hard to extrapolate from the European elections to a General Election (and of course the Local elections in England were a resounding success for the party) but the Tories need a 6.9% swing from Labour to win the next General Election - and that would only give them a hypothetical majority of 2. To put it in context, there has only been a swing of that size or greater at two elections since the Second World War (Labour in 1945 and in 1997), making it a historically difficult possibility. Definitely not impossible (and in the current climate still likely) but should ensure that the Conservatives take a win for granted at their peril.

Mark - B+

Liberal Democrats
The Lib Dems picked up one more MEP than last time, and obviously that is a cause for delight for them. They will also be relieved to have retained their MEP in Scotland, which for a while looked like an uphill task for them.

However, I think overall these elections are very disappointing for them. They lost 1.1% of the national share of the vote, failing to benefit at all (nationally at least) from the Labour collapse, and remained in a very distant 4th place. Coupled with Local elections which were slightly disappointing overall, the Lib Dems will not be able to go away from these elections with any great delight (although Clegg, bless him, is doing his best).

Obviously the implications for a General Election are very hard to assess - UKIP beat the Lib Dems at the 04 Euros but were subsequently beaten at the General Election the following year, so I wouldn't expect the Lib Dems to stop being the third party in Westminster any time soon. However, their bold predictions that they would somehow become the main Opposition does seem rather wide of the mark. It is also a reflection of the fact that they are, to a certain extent, starting to be seen as irrelevant for the European elections, which is a worrying sign for the pro-EU camp.

Mark - C-

Another strange situation when it comes to assessment. Effectively UKIP didn't change - their vote share was up slightly (0.5%) and they gained one more MEP. Impressive but not earth shattering. Rather the key issue for them was that due to Labour's collapse they moved up to become the second placed party for the UK. In addition, they picked up their first MEP in Wales, demonstrating a possibility that they can expand beyond their Anglo-centric power base.

The key issue to take from their showing is the fact that Britain has to be considered, electorally at least, a Euro sceptic country. Just taking the three main Euro sceptic parties (the Conservatives, UKIP and the BNP), over half the electorate expressed their support for their policies - this doesn't include other Euro sceptic parties who also picked up votes. Indeed, excluding the Northern Irish results, the Euro sceptic parties picked up 40 of the 69 seats on offer.

The pro-European argument is not making any headway with the British electorate, which is not surprising considering how little effort is put into it. A presumption is made that people will take for granted that the EU is a force for good, with not explanation required. This is an arrogant and patronising approach, which is helping the Eurosceptic cause in attacking Britain's role in the EU.

It will be interesting to see where UKIP go from here, as they still effectively only remain a European Parliamentary force (albeit a substantial one). I don't think that their success last night translates into General Election success, and indeed I would expect a significant swathe of their support to turn to the Conservatives in a General Election, boosting their chances. However, for bragging rights alone last night has to be put down as a massive success for UKIP, and one which they will enjoy for a long time.

Mark - A

Last night was a resounding success for the SNP, and boy didn't Salmond love it! The fact of the matter is that they thrashed the Labour Party for the first time ever in Scotland (they won the 07 Scottish Parliamentary elections, but it was a far more close run event) but, more crucially, saw all three of their main opposition parties (who are also all Unionist parties) lose votes.

The SNP can rightly claim to be master of all they survey in Scotland just now. There may be a slight disappointment that they didn't break the 30% mark or that they didn't manage to grab a third seat (this was certainly one of the best chances they will ever have to do that) but these are minor points for a very successful evening. Two years into their Government they can be very pleased with where they stand and will be confident of increasing their support in the event of a Conservative victory at Westminster. For the Unionist parties it is a clear kick up the backside - if they don't want the SNP to run away with the political agenda in Scotland they need to sort their acts out now.

Mark - A

Yesterday was a dark day for British politics with the BNP picking up not only their first MEP, but a second buddy for him to play with. This is a national embarrassment. The reality is that the BNP actually didn't pick up huge amounts of support, indeed indications are that they received fewer votes. However, the reduced turnout led to them being able to secure a great share of the vote, which is the crucial factor used under the D'Hondt system.

The main political parties all have to take responsibility for this situation, but it is Labour in particular who must apologise. The majority of the BNP's support comes from traditional Labour communities, and it is this disenfranchised underclass who are registering support for the BNP. However, voters shouldn't be absolved of all responsibility in this matter - a vote for the BNP is not a protest vote, it is a vote in favour of their divisive and ludicrous agenda. Labour and the other parties must now reassess their approach to the BNP in order to determine the best way in which to combat and defeat them.

For the crucial aspect of this breakthrough is not that they will necessarily do anything at the European Parliament other than embarrass the country by their odious presence. Rather it is the legitimacy that electoral success gives them as a 'proper' political party. Whilst the transition from European success to Westminster is not automatic (as UKIP can testify to) it does make it more possible, particularly in the communities where the BNP are now the main opposition. These are dangerous times for British politics.

Mark - A (this is given with great grudging, however their breakthrough cannot be denied).

Other parties
This was a night for the smaller parties, with their votes going up. However, success was actually limited. The Greens ironically suffered from the voting system (normally they are beneficiaries of PR systems) as they failed to pick up any more MEPs despite increasing their vote share. Plaid had a disappointing night in Wales - they had been tipped to overtake Labour and win the popular vote, but remained in third place. For the other parties they saw an increase in their vote share, but were nowhere near electoral breakthrough.

Mark - C

So a brutal night for the Labour Party and really all of the other results have to be taken within this context. But the key issue is really that the British electorate are not connected to the European Parliament or its work, and have expressed their apathy with the political system by staying away from the polling booth. It is that apathy that we must all combat if we wish to avoid the BNP and their ilk increasing their electoral successes.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Euro Elections

I will blog in more detail about the results tomorrow, but I just had to stick up my initial thoughts. Devastating night for the Labour Party, shaping up to be the most embarrassing result in history. Scotland was a disaster, with the SNP clearly ahead. One small positive is that despite the collapse in the Labour vote it looks like we will hold on to our two MEPs - in the current climate that is a very big positive. Elsewhere in the UK, however, the Party will be facing another round of electoral annihilation.

The final point is of course the election of the first ever BNP MEP (only one at the time of writing but there could be at least one more). This is a massive embarrassment for the UK, a ringing indictment of all the major political parties (but particularly the Labour Party) and a real danger for British democracy. At this moment I feel sick to my stomach at the thought that the disgusting bunch of fascists that is the BNP can claim to be representing our country in the European Parliament.

More tomorrow.

Friday, 5 June 2009


So Alan Johnson is in as Home Secretary, Alasdair Darling will stay as Chancellor and David Milliband won't be resigning.

It appears at first glance that the Prime Minister may have just avoided the mortal blow aimed at him last night by James Purnell, with the Cabinet heavyweights appearing to back him against Purnell's attacks.

However, it would be ludicrous and quite frankly impossible to ignore the step that James Purnell has taken and the discussion must now be had as to where the Party is going. More on this later as developments occur.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

The die is cast, Purnell has quit

Devastating blow to the Prime Minister as Purnell has quit the Cabinet, picking up a lot of media plaudits in the process. If he is followed in the next few hours and days by more resignations, then the move will be complete and Gordon Brown's time will be finished.

The rumours are that Alasdair Darling is furious about his treatment and if he were to quit the blow would be completely fatal. With terrible electoral results likely to be in the offing, it is going to be a very brutal period ahead.

Where are the life jackets on this thing?

So "Nuts about Hazel" who managed to come sixth in the Labour Deputy Leadership contest has left the Cabinet, in an indignant huff that GB didn't support her over her 'mistaken' claims. Well, sorry to break it to you Hazel, but your behaviour was unacceptable, along with so many of your colleagues, and it leaves many of us who are activists for the Party ashamed and let down by the behaviour of our representatives.

The fact is that the Government, long under pressure by the storms of political and public opinion (combined with a disappointing amount of self-inflicted damage), is now shipping water at a horrendous rate, with even the Guardian now laying into Gordon Brown's record. Polling shows the Tories surging ahead, even though I still have the suspicion that the electorate are more cheesed off with the Labour Party as opposed to being completely in love with Cameron. And now a letter is being circulated amongst Labour MPs, trying to draw together a murky little coalition to bring down the PM.

Of course this is entirely understandable given the abject standing of the Party just now and the likely annihilation that we face at the elections today. However, have the rebels thought through the implications of their coup? If GB is disposed and a new Leader/PM installed (Alan Johnson or, even more scarily, Harriet Harman???) there is no way that an immediate General Election could not be called. We do not have a Presidential system and this is why the complaints after Tony Blair stood down about GB not having a mandate were wide of the mark. However, a third PM in place since the last election would be ludicrous.

Who in their right mind would want to lead Labour into a General Election just now? An utter wipe out would occur, leaving the Party shattered for years to come and the new incumbent's leadership career finished before it started. It takes a lot of optimism to think that the political context and environment could have improved for Labour by next year, but it's hard to see how it could get much worse.

The problem with the leadership challenge is that there are no clear alternatives who could bring anything exciting to the table. A decade in Government has led to stagnation amongst our body of MPs - there are no new and interesting names forcing their way through to demand attention, rather a reshuffle of an ever declining pack. Familiarity breeds contempt, and that does go a long way to explaining public views towards the Government.

Fundamentally, however, the rot is due to the lack of ideas behind how the Government is working. The greatest achievements of Labour's term in power - minimum wage, new deal etc - came from the heady early days of power, when the UK was being reshaped into an exciting new social democratic paradise, the two powers of Blair and Brown driving us forward into a future of prosperity for all. But then the egos and the rivalries kicked in - the Party was poisoned as soon as we had Blairites and Brownites, leaving the rest of us Labourites sitting on the sidelines as our leadership proceeded to kill itself.

A new dawn is needed for the Labour Party - a moment of stopping to say what is it we exist for? What are our priorities? I still believe that as a Party we have the opportunities and desires to make huge changes to our country, to correct the imbalances which exist and to create opportunities for all to achieve their potential. But this cannot be done through infighting and posturing.

Our pride as the Labour Party has always been that we have been the party of the people - all the people. The Tories have always been rooted in their support for the rich and the Lib Dems represent...well, they represent whoever they think will vote for them that day, but have certainly taken a rightward jump under Nick Clegg. The saddest thing about our time in Government is that we are no longer seen as the party of the people - rather we have tarnished this mantle so much that the BNP are doing their best to try and steal it for their own sickening ends.

How do we regain this role for ourselves? I don't think a rush back to the left extremes is required - the people are not there. But a desire to out-Tory the Tories leaves us looking shallow and meaningless - the people are not there either. What we need is to overhaul the candidates we have in place for the Party, to ensure that it reverts back to having members from all elements of society - not just career politicians and lawyers, but teachers, workers, academics, service professionals and health professionals too. We need young people and old people, people with families and single people. We need ethnic minority candidates and ethnic majority candidates. We need to bring together a massive coalition of all of the skills and experiences of the citizens of our country to ensure that Parliament and the Party never loses sight of who it works for again.

We need to explore the Big Tent approach, to work with others where appropriate to achieve the best and most successful consensus for progress. We need to reform democracy - introduce proportional representation to eliminate the unhealthy and unjust huge majorities which have contributed to the disconnection of the Government from the electorate; strict term limits for Parliament with elections set in stone; introduce term limits for the Speaker so that constituencies are not hampered by their MP ceasing to have the time to serve them. I will return to these in their own separate post, but they can contribute to revitalising our democratic structures.

If the Government manages to hold on for another year before losing in the next General Election, then GB should take this opportunity to go for broke. Presume the election lost and therefore damn the repercussions - he should allow his Presbyterian sensibilities which have been so offended recently to push the agenda, putting reform of politics and the elimination of inequalities at the fore front of his work. The initial achievements of the Labour Government which TB introduced are now pretty safe - the Tories are unlikely to rescind the minimum wage for example even if they would like to. However, they will try and push back anything else that they can. The Prime Minister needs to go for broke and try and leave the country closer to the vision of what he would like it to be.

The Labour Party will not die from this mess, just as the Conservatives did not die from the rout of 97. However, it is vital that it does more than just survive. There must be open and frank discussion of the future direction of the Party, with all sections of the internal spectrum, right and left, free to air their views and contribute to a rebirth. Anything else, however, will be a devastating abdication of our responsibilities to the people we represent and who depend upon us to raise their issues.

Monday, 1 June 2009

The pain of politics

It's a tough time to be a democrat in the UK, particularly one who is also a member of the Labour Party. Public disgust with the political process is at an all time high; the Labour Party appears to be on the verge of electoral extinction; the SNP are supremely confident of winning the by-election in my own seat; the BNP stand poised to pick up at least one MEP; and the lack of ideas for where to go forward is terrifying, lost in the stampede of politicians trying to defend the indefensible.

At a time like this I start to wonder whether someone like me has a place in politics. See, I'm unashamedly naive and optimistic when it comes to democracy. I believe that to serve as an elected representative is the greatest honour that you can receive from your fellow citizens. They are, through the means of the democratic process, choosing you to work on their behalf, make decisions in their interests and represent them in the local and/or national discussion. What an honour! Representatives stand on behalf of the public and therefore should never think themselves above those they serve.

Sadly, this seems a very misplaced view in the current climate, where we are being forced to witness the greed and arrogance which has polluted our political system. Our democracy is corrupt, the representatives having ceased to represent anyone other than themselves, lost in the 'job' that they have and in maximising their own gains. To me political representation is not a job, it is a vocation, a role which you are called to and which exists to allow us to better serve our communities. It is about serving not commanding; about being one of the people rather than a class above them.

My Papa was a councillor, and later Provost, in Dumbarton for years and during the majority of this time the role was unpaid. He worked during the day and then attended meetings in the evening, somehow managing to fit his family and other commitments in around this. This involved sacrifice, but he did it because he believed in the difference he was able to make, and because he believed in the honour of the role that he had been entrusted with.

The current mess disappoints me and in many ways puts me off involvement in the whole sordid process. However, a bigger part of me reacts with anger to the mess and makes me more determined to play a part. I believe my naive, simplistic and idealistic view of politics is a good one, and I'll be damned if I'll have it ruined for me by those who misuse the system. I believe that political engagement can and should be a massive force for positive change and that all of us, even me, have a role to play.